Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Christ Child arrives, but God is already with us

Madonna of Loreto or Madonna of the Veil

Advent ends in only a few hours with the arrival of the Christ Child. I must thank those who helped me begin this season of preparation four weeks ago. Gene Giuliano, our Catholic Biblical School instructor for Year 2, gave the Advent mission at St. Mary of the Pines church, at the invitation of DRE Kim Long. I’m privileged to call Kim a dear friend since our small group sessions throughout Year 1.

Gene’s three-night mission really got into my head and heart, as I’m sure it did with others attending. He spoke of establishing an intimate relationship to God, being open to change and new beginnings. God comes to meet us, and this demands a change in us. It takes courage to overcome our fear of what is new. With the Infancy Narratives as the basic text, Gene presented:

  • Mary as an example of surrender and trust. She accepted an unknown future directed to God.
  • The shepherds as our model for mission—that is, making God’s presence known. They became the first apostles, the first evangelists.
  • Joseph as the ideal for mercy and forgiveness. He did not expose Mary to the law, but accepted her as his wife and Jesus as his child, even fleeing to Egypt to protect them.
  • The magi as an example of humility and service, following Jesus. That we should humbly regard others as more important than ourselves.

That was night 1. Night 2 focused on the presence of God. Responding to God who dwells within us. He is not distant but always with us and acting on our behalf. How do we open ourselves to that reality? Through the Scriptures, the Eucharist and sacraments, service to others—especially the marginalized, the ill, the elderly, or our enemies.

Night 3 focused on saying Yes to God, opening the door, keeping our lamps lit. Gene outlined four ways to draw closer to God, No. 1 being study of the Scriptures! The others involved worship (engage in prayer and actively participate in liturgy); ministry (be His presence in our everyday world); and fellowship (become a part of each others’ lives, at home, at work and at worship). We are called to be the instrument of salvation for someone else.

May we embrace tonight and always the true meaning of Emmanuel: God is with us. May we run forth to greet Him.


Learned men followed the star to Bethlehem

The Magi Journeying

The wise men journeying from the East

Last year we studied the gospel Infancy Narratives before Christmas, and when viewing the crèche at church, I focused on the humble shepherds privileged to be the first visitors to the Christ Child. This year my thoughts focused on the magi – otherwise known as the wise men, the three kings. They were men of wealth and education, men from foreign lands. Having them present in Bethlehem, worshipping the infant Jesus, celebrates the universality of Christ’s salvation. He came to earth in the form of man to save (paraphrasing Paul) Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, men and women, rich and poor.

I also imagine the magi as seekers and risk-takers. They left behind lives of privilege to follow a star of knowledge.

We are seekers in this Bible class. We enrolled to expand our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures and, wittingly or not, we opened our hearts to change. What a blessing has been the experience in my life.

One other thought on the topic of seekers. Recently I’ve been reading a book by Msgr. Thomas Halik of Prague in an effort to understand the prevalence of atheism in Czech Republic and other post-Communist countries. In Patience with God: The Story of Zaccheus Continuing in Us, he writes of atheists as seekers. They may know little about the institutional Church, and yet many of them have a form of faith, a spiritual sensibility. They are curious about Christianity, about Catholicism. They are interested, but shy. They are hidden but watchful.

He likens them to the gospel story of Zaccheus in Jericho, the tax collector of short stature who heard Jesus was coming to town. He climbed a tree so he could better see. Jesus called him to come down, saying He would eat that evening in Zaccheus’ house.

Not all seekers have the inclination to drop everything and pursue knowledge of God, as did the magi. Many are shy, and they need to be called by name.

Look around, as Halik says. The trees are full of seekers.

Isaiah heralds us at each Christmas gathering

English: Midnight Mass, Dormition, Jerusalem. ...

Midnight Mass, Dormition, Jerusalem

The prophet Isaiah appears at each of the four Masses of Christmas. Two readings are from Isaiah of Jerusalem, one from Isaiah of Babylon and one from Isaiah of the restored Jerusalem. With our new knowledge of the plight of Israel and Judah before and during the exile, they take on more levels of meaning. May my deeper understanding enrich my reading as first lector at tonight’s Midnight Mass at the cathedral.

Vigil Mass

Reading 1 Is 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.

Nations shall behold your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
you shall be called by a new name
pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD,
a royal diadem held by your God.
No more shall people call you “Forsaken,”
or your land “Desolate,”
but you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the LORD delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.

Midnight Mass

Reading 1 Is 9:1-6

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!

Mass at Dawn

Reading 1 Is 62:11-12

See, the LORD proclaims
to the ends of the earth:
say to daughter Zion,
your savior comes!
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
They shall be called the holy people,
the redeemed of the LORD,
and you shall be called “Frequented,”
a city that is not forsaken.

Mass during the Day

Reading 1 Is 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,
announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, and saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”

Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry,
together they shout for joy,
for they see directly, before their eyes,
the LORD restoring Zion.
Break out together in song,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the LORD comforts his people,
he redeems Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
all the ends of the earth will behold
the salvation of our God.

May we be mindful of the message …

A timely thought from lauds, December 23rd:

We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts(2 Peter 1:19)

Now that we’ve studied about a dozen of the prophets, what does “the prophetic message” mean to you?

Awareness through the prophets

One of the rich benefits of Bible study is awakening to greater meaning of familiar liturgies and traditions. Encountering such a simple phrase as “the prophets and the kings” now comes to life for me.

Here’s a timely petition, from today’s Morning Prayers:

Lord, our God, you sent your prophets to call all people to abandon their unfaithful pursuits and to return to you with all their hearts in preparation for the day of your coming. As we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ the Lord, recall us to the Gospel and grant us true conversion, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rejoice with all your heart


English: Advent Wreath with Candles

Third Sunday of Advent

Despite his fierce portrayal of the day of judgment, the prophet Zephaniah is best known to Catholics for an exultant passage, 3:14-20. It is twice quoted in our seasonal liturgies, once during the Easter vigil and again for the Third Sunday of Advent. Only a few days ago, for Gaudate Sunday, we heard again these stirring words:

Shout for joy, daughter Zion! sing joyfully, Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, Zion, do not be discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior,
Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love,
Who will sing joyfully because of you, as on festival days.
I will remove disaster from among you,
so that no one may recount your disgrace.
At that time I will deal with all who oppress you;
I will save the lame, and assemble the outcasts;
I will give them praise and renown
in every land where they were shame.
At that time I will bring you home,
and at that time I will gather you;
For I will give you renown and praise,
among all the peoples of the earth,
When I bring about your restoration
before your very eyes, says the LORD.

A people humble and lowly shall survive


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Zephaniah prophesied early in Josiah’s reign. A second cousin of the king, Zephaniah courageously denounced the pagan court. He condemned princes and priests, prophets and judges, for a litany of sins: Rebelliousness. Tyranny. Arrogance. Self-righteousness. Lack of trust in the Lord. Distance from God. Insolence and treachery. Profaning the holy. Violating the law of God.

Zephaniah predicted a dark Day of the Lord ushering in catastrophe for all. He may have been a strong influence in the young king’s public conversion in 633 and purge of pagan worship beginning in 629.

Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., compares and contrasts Zephaniah with earlier prophets (Collegeville Commentary, page 525):

  • Like Isaiah, he appears to be of urban background, evidencing little knowledge of the desert (Amos) or the agricultural landscape (Hosea).
  • Unlike Hosea and Micah, there is little perception of the anguish of God.
  • His book presents no vignettes of the wealthy, as in Amos, or of the poor, as in Micah. He pays little attention to social injustice.
  • Like Amos and First Isaiah, he focuses upon sin, chastisement, and the remnant that will remain after the Day of the Lord.

But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD—
the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong and speak no lies;
Nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue;
They shall pasture and lie down
with none to disturb them. (Zephaniah 3:12-13)